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Macbeth Act V, scene 1:act 5 scene 1 what does lady macbeth mean when she sais " all...

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lily102 | Student, Grade 11 | eNotes Newbie

Posted March 1, 2010 at 2:40 AM via web

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Macbeth Act V, scene 1:

act 5 scene 1

what does lady macbeth mean when she sais " all the perfumes of arabia will not sweeten this little hand"?  what earlier line in the play does her comment parallel? how do her words contrast with her comments about bloody hands in act 2 scene2?

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Doug Stuva | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted March 1, 2010 at 2:51 AM (Answer #1)

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Lady Macbeth in Act 5.1 of Shakespeare's Macbeth is metaphorically saying that all of the perfumes of Arabia could not get rid of the smell of blood on her hands, that no amount of perfume could "sweeten" them. 

Ironically, she says in Act 2.2 that her husband should not worry about the blood on his hands after he kills Duncan, that a little water will take care of it.  But a little water doesn't take care of it, and here she is, later, suffering from OCD-like symptoms, obsessed with imaginary blood on her hands.  Her guilt has developed and grown, and resulted in obsession and depression.

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mstultz72 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted March 1, 2010 at 3:01 AM (Answer #2)

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The two dominant leitmotifs and forms of imagery in the play are blood and hands.  "Blood" is mentioned 41 times in the play; "hand" 38 times.

Lady Macbeth's line in Act V ("all the perfumes of arabia will not sweeten this little hand") is a partner to Macbeth's line from Act II: "Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood Clean from my hand?" The answers to both questions are, of course, no.

Lady Macbeth has literally and figuratively been sleepwalking since Act II. Indeed, the Macbeths, by murdering Duncan, have murdered sleep.

Examples from Lady Macbeth, Act II:

Look like the time; bear welcome in your eye,
Your hand, your tongue: look like the innocent flower, But be the serpent under't.

AND

Go get some water,
And wash this filthy witness from your hand.

AND

My hands are of your colour; but I shame
To wear a heart so white.

AND in Act V:

The thane of Fife had a wife: where is she now?--
What, will these hands ne'er be clean?--No more o' that, my lord, no more o' that: you mar all with this starting.

AND

Here's the smell of the blood still: all the
perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little
hand. Oh, oh, oh!

AND

Wash your hands, put on your nightgown; look not so pale.--I tell you yet again, Banquo's buried; he cannot come out on's grave.

AND

To bed, to bed! there's knocking at the gate:
come, come, come, come, give me your hand. What's done cannot be undone.--To bed, to bed, to bed!

Lady Macbeth's use of hand imagery connects to both Duncan's and Banquo's murders, even though she only helped plan the former and not the latter.  The hand imagery also connects the two murderers to blood, death, bed, burial, gates, graves, the sea, ghosts, sleep, water.  In short, Lady Macbeth is forever stuck in Act II, such is her guilt over that first murder.  The bloody hands are symbols of welcome (handshakes), sex (being taken to bed), guilt (murder with the dagger) and her id (unconscious desires).

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